How the Facebook Outage Exposed Society’s Over-Reliance on Facebook

The Facebook outage lasted *check notes* up to 6 hours. Society lost their collective minds, but does it have to be this way?

It’s been common knowledge in the web development world for decades now: when you have a website, expect downtime at some point. Sometimes, it’s needed to update software (server code or a CMS). Other times, it’s the result of administration error. In some cases, heaven forbid, the site gets hacked and caused the down time. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen. That’s why site hosting and other companies offering server space so often say “99% uptime”. It really is inevitable, but the goal is always to reduce those moments of downtime. Ideally, keeping it down to a few minutes.

What is also so often true is that when a smaller player in the online world goes down, it’s, at best, annoying to see. Still, few really bat an eye. When a bigger player goes down, it gets noticed. This was especially the case whenever ThePirateBay went down in the late 2000’s to early 2010’s. For us media types, getting an answer for what happened was like something of a minor gold rush. So many freak out and constantly refresh different news sources trying to find out what happened. When ThePirateBay went down back in the day, everyone in the file-sharing community knew whether they used the site or not. Of course, those days have long since passed.

Earlier this week, Facebook went down. To be fair, when a big player goes down, it had to be the result of something really screwing up in the system. After all, larger operations typically have multiple servers and backup systems for when a main server goes down. That way, the user would never notice the difference. However, users did notice the outage because it affected major Facebook properties such as Instagram and, of course, Facebook. The Verge notes that the outage lasted somewhere in the ballpark of 2 to 6 hours (depending on the server you use):

Facebook says it has fixed an outage that lasted for about two hours across some of its services on Friday. The outage, which Facebook says was caused by a configuration change, impacted Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and Workplace and affected people around the world.

“We’re so sorry if you weren’t able to access our products during the last couple of hours,” Facebook said on Twitter. “We know how much you depend on us to communicate with one another. We fixed the issue — thanks again for your patience this week.”

The outage follows a massive one on Monday, which took down Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Oculus for nearly six hours. In an explanation posted the day after, Facebook said the backbone connecting the company’s data centers around the world was inadvertently shut down. The outage was extensive enough that it even broke internal systems used by Facebook employees, forcing them to turn to company-provided Outlook accounts to communicate instead.

Much like outages that affected ThePirateBay, everyone noticed the outage – except on the biggest scale possible by today’s standards. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to have missed the story. Talking heads on TV broadcast news stations were literally counting the hours Facebook was down. One business reporter noted that while some might scoff at the idea of a site responsible for allowing you to see cat pictures, she noted that there are businesses who do rely solely on Facebook to generate revenue. Radio personalities, meanwhile, acted as though the entire Internet was down and was actively soliciting people to chime in on what to do while Facebook is down. The DJ happily suggested reading a magazine in the mean time (seriously, what year is it?).

For us slightly more “techy” minded like us, it was like a massive collective facepalm (pardon the pun). If Facebook being down means that the whole Internet is down, then you are doing the Internet wrong. After all, even the other large “tech giants” were still up this whole time. What happened to browsing YouTube for instance? How about the other cesspool, Twitter? As so many have said a million times over, Facebook is not the Internet. The Internet is massive and effectively endless. Just to get a rough idea of how large the Internet is, try checking out the 2021 map of the Internet. Even for someone who knows their way around the Internet, this can very easily be daunting to even look at. The thing with that map is is that it only shows the larger players in the Internet.

If you are a small business, do not rely exclusively on Facebook. Ever. Ideally, you’ll want to get your own domain, set up a site with a hosting provider. Does it have to be spectacular? Not really. In fact, setting up shop on your own like that has been increasingly easy for a number of years now. Some hosting providers offer one click installs. You can actually set up a Shopify site or a WordPress site in mere minutes. Obviously, what your business will vary what Content Management System (CMS) you’ll want to use. Still, setting up something basic is actually quite simple.

What’s more is that it is possible to set up a site and utilize Google Adsense (really the only player in town for the most part, sadly enough) to even generate a small amount or revenue off of impressions while you are at it. Facebook is, obviously, making a mint off of your viewers, why not skim a little cream off of the ad revenue froth instead of Facebook making it all for themselves? It won’t be much, but you know it is better than nothing.

The other benefit is that if Facebook is down, your site is up. For us, the Facebook downtime did not impact us at all. In fact, if it weren’t for the large amounts of media coverage, we would never have noticed. Yes, you do have to pay money for the domain and server space, but you have a second place for your customers to visit outside of Facebook. That has huge benefits in and of itself. What’s more is that having your own site offers substantially more flexibility than what Facebook offers in the first place. Just remember to backup your databases regularly.

For your average user, there is a similar kind of thinking that will help you out immensely. Find a second method of communicating in case Facebook goes down. Maybe use Telegram or Discord for instance. There’s a massive list of methods you can use to communicate with each other. Even Steam and modern consoles offer ways of communicating if you really want for those who game. Generally, the idea is to set up a sort of “meet me here if you want to communicate outside of Facebook”. The practical benefits include not being data mined to death all day long and you are not putting all of your eggs in one basket.

If you are a user who wants to view cute video’s, YouTube has loads of that. Maybe use Reddit or Imgur for cute pictures if pictures are more your thing.

The best advice is to generally set something up that doesn’t use Facebook properties. That way, you are not putting all of your eggs in one basket (be it time, business, or communication). This really is common knowledge for those who know technology to a reasonable degree. Society would be better off if more adopted this kind of thinking.

If anything, society has generally grown to rely far too heavily on Facebook in the first place. This has, arguably, contributed to Facebook being so large in the first place. The fact that so many lost their collective minds over a few hours of downtime at Facebook really only served to expose how silly some people have become with relying so heavily on Facebook. Maybe these people can be less ridiculous if they explored the Internet a little bit outside of Facebook. After all, an outage at Facebook – especially one that lasts a few hours – should not be that big of a deal.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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